Whose Broken Commitment to Va. Transportation?
By William J. Howell
In a commentary last week, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine attempted to tag Republicans in the House of Delegates with sole responsibility for every failing of Virginia's transportation system. In his view, credit for all progress on transportation belongs to his administration and the federal government under President Obama. Although the partisan hard-liners Mr. Kaine serves as Democratic National Committee chairman might concur with this distortion, an objective review of the facts tells a different story.
As a candidate for governor, Tim Kaine promised not to raise taxes, to enact major changes to land-use planning to help reduce congestion and to protect dollars dedicated for the Transportation Trust Fund. Mr. Kaine broke the first promise six days after taking office by unveiling a transportation plan funded by a massive tax increase. He kept the second largely because of the persistence of House Republicans. Frustratingly, he might have kept the third promise had he spent an ounce of political capital in garnering support among Democratic legislators, who have steadfastly refused to act.
Mr. Kaine professes his commitment to transportation, but Virginia was the very last state to apply for federal stimulus dollars. While Mr. Kaine repeatedly has turned transportation into a wedge issue for partisan advantage, many of the improvements made this decade can be traced directly to the leadership of House Republicans.
First, long-overdue changes linking transportation decisions to land-use planning were integral parts of House Republican transportation packages during the 2006 regular and special sessions and were enacted into law in 2007. These changes include transportation impact fees, urban development areas and greater local control of road projects and maintenance. While Mr. Kaine talked about similar changes in 2005, he never made them the centerpiece of his transportation packages and instead focused predominantly on a job-killing mix of tax increases.
Second, public-private partnerships for transportation -- which Mr. Kaine now heralds -- are possible because of the landmark Public-Private Transportation Act, sponsored by Republicans. Such partnerships have been an integral component of every House Republican transportation package this decade. More recently, our initiatives to expand tolling concessions such as market-based high-occupancy toll lanes have been blocked by Mr. Kaine and his Democratic allies. Their acknowledged reason for rejecting such reforms: They did not include broad-based tax increases.
Third, in 2005, it was House Republicans who introduced a $1 billion transportation funding package as part of the 2004-06 state budget, with $850 million of that proposal ending up in that year's final spending blueprint at our insistence. Also that year, House Republicans introduced and led the General Assembly to pass legislation dedicating an ongoing source of revenue to support rail improvements for the first time in Virginia history.
Fourth, in 2007, it was House Republicans who enacted a number of the transportation initiatives we had been promoting for years. As a result, next year Virginia will issue more than $550 million for transportation projects from the $3 billion in bonds the General Assembly authorized in 2007. The road, rail and transit improvements -- for which Mr. Kaine now takes full credit -- can be directly traced to these Republican initiatives.
Fifth, this year it was Republicans who stood alone in advancing new transportation funding. Our plan, allowing Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to retain a portion of revenue from economic growth for regional transportation improvements, was summarily rejected by Democrats in the state Senate.
Finally, when Gov. Kaine called a special session in 2008 to consider his final transportation tax plan, not a single member of the Democrat-majority Senate would even introduce it. And when delegates were given an opportunity to vote for his plan, it failed to receive a single vote. Not one Democratic legislator voted for Gov. Kaine's last transportation tax plan, the sole reason for which he had called the special session.
This November Virginians will elect a new governor. We should all hope that their choice is not wedded to the one-note mantra of higher taxes but is instead open to comprehensive and innovative solutions, like the ones once promised -- but not delivered -- by his predecessor.
The writer is a Republican and the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
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